Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES January 19th Part Two

Focus on South Africa: Best Values In The World

by Michael Godel with notes from David Lawrason and John Szabo M.S.

Micheal Godel

Michael Godel

Last week in Part One John Szabo M.S. and the WineAlign team covered the smart buys of the VINTAGES January 19th release but saved this special edition of Part Two for an exclusive look at South Africa. The reasons for reserving an entire Buyers’ Guide this week for the best of the Western Cape is threefold. The first is something that is becoming exceedingly obvious. South African wines simply represent the best and most interesting quality to price ratios in the world. Second, the VINTAGES buyers have assembled, as John pointed out last week, “a very fine collection featuring both quality and value.” Third, as my esteemed colleague also noted, this second of two parts in the ongoing purchasers’ paradigm comes out in conjunction with a detailed report from my journey to South Africa’s Capelands and Cape Wine trade show in September 2018.

Related – Heritage and diversity in South African wine (publishing on Jan 17).

It has now been more than two years since the LCBO first opened the Destination South Africa: “Products of the world” store at 1899 Brock Rd. in Pickering on Friday, September 16, 2016. The destination boutique offers approximately 130 wines from South Africa, including some 70 that are only available in-store at this location. Some of these products continue to be available to buy online through the LCBO’s e-commerce platform though it is the Brock Rd. selection that continues to be one of the best single-store assortments available outside of South Africa.

Many of the wines are from the LCBO’s Consignment Program, which means this is the first time they have been available for customers to purchase in LCBO stores. Previously, the products would have only been available in bars and licensed restaurants. The current selection represents a variety of products from wine regions across South Africa and is regularly updated to keep the assortment interesting.

No one does a media package like Wines of South Africa for @wosacanada peeps. thank you for getting me very ready to tackle Cape Wine 2018

Since attending Cape Wine in 2015 there has been a consistent South African presence in the local tasting schedule, including events and excursions with several groups of South African producers here in Ontario. The Premium Independent Winemakers (PIWOSA) are frequent visitors, a group of 11 wineries that includes Paul Cluver, Bruwer Raats, Ken Forrester and Alex Dale of Radford Dale, as are Chris and Andrea Mullineux of Mullineux & Leeu. When I returned from South Africa four months ago people immediately began to ask. What’s it like? What’s new, what’s changed, what’s hot? I asked myself the same questions and the most obvious answers forthcoming were charged with notions of quality and especially confidence. There is a swagger about these women and men who make wine from dry-farmed bush vines set into some of this planet’s craziest antediluvian soils. Their wines collectively have a very purposed focus but what they have more than anything else is flow.

Three years after that 2015 Cape Wine experience it’s duly noted how both flow and focus mean that the game is changing. The notion of planting whatever you feel like wherever you feel it just because it will ripen is evolving. Specialization, especially with respect to varietals like chenin blanc, cinsault, grenache and pinotage is the wave of the future and with this furthered isolation of micro-plots and terroir for these very specific grape varieties. Narrowing the focus, figuring out what works best and why. It’s the Burgundian way and indeed the way all great wine regions make their mark. The heritage seekers and protectors know what’s what. Old vines, especially dry, bush-farmed vineyards are the backbone of South Africa’s diversity and possibility.

Stellenbosch, Western Cape

“We’re no longer trying to make chenin taste like sauvignon blanc or chardonnay, or Huet for that matter,” noted Chris Mullineux. “The grape variety has been in the country for more the 350 years, since the 1650s and it can withstand warm and dry conditions and perform really well.” No discourse on new versus old in South Africa can be addressed without first looking at the modish dialectal of chenin blanc. The combination of bush and old vines, coupled with indigenous ferments and skin contact addresses has elevated the stalwart, signature grape to its current reality. That said this VINTAGES release does not rely on the current chenin fashion and instead offers up a diverse lot of varietal, region and style. It’s rare for our group of critics to agree and align on almost all the wines available but that is South Africa in a nutshell. All in, across the board, best value wines in the world.


South Africa Picks:


Bon Courage Jacques Bruére Cuvée Rosé Brut 2011, Traditional Method, Wo Robertson, South Africa ($24.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a complex, dry and pleasantly fruity rosé from the Cape, with an intriguing streak of iron flavour alongside red berry fruit, tart and sharp. Acids are nicely lined up with the rest of the structure, and length is quite impressive. Well worth a look I’d say.
Michael Godel – From a territory where sparkling wine has proven its worth this traditional method Rosé from Robertson is a right proper Cap Classique high in natural acidity, stoniness and the perfect amount of pinot noir rust. Not rustic but highly specific and carrying a flavour profile that is truly parochial, regional and specific to the place. Does that offer up enough stylistic hints? …

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Meanwhile, do you know about the WOSA Sommelier Cup? The 360th South African wine harvest is beginning, and Wines of South Africa is pleased to mark the occasion by announcing the 2019 WOSA Sommelier Cup. The triennial contest pits your knowledge of South African wines against that of other sommeliers from across Canada, and, if you make it to the finals, across the world. Sommeliers anywhere in Canada can enter provided you are currently working in a restaurant as a sommelier and/or wine director, or in wine retail in a buying capacity.

Starting in February masterclasses will take place in five different markets (Vancouver, BC, Calgary, AB, Toronto, ON, Montreal, QC and Halifax, NS), each followed by a quiz*. Exact dates will be announced shortly at  The ten top scorers from across the country will be sent a bottle (or two) of SA wine. You need to come up with a tasting note, food pairing and then create a short video with your phone. The three best entries will move on to a semi-final round.

The winner of the Canadian title next competes with international finalists from around the world in Cape Town in September. Along with the finals, the trip will include visits to the major wine regions and the chance to meet top producers. Dates for the competition and visit are September 19th-26th; expect to land in Cape Town on the 18th/19th and be back home on September 27th. WOSA will cover airfare, accommodation, local transport, and meals.

5. In addition, three spots to accompany the finalist on the trip will also be made available. To participate, competitors from earlier rounds will need to pay their airfare, but WOSA will cover accommodation, local transport, and meals. These three will get to cheer on our finalist and accompany the international sommelier group on their visits and tour of the Cape. Priority will be given to semi-finalists, but then opened to entrants from earlier rounds.

Go to and complete the entry form. For more information please contact Laurel Keenan, WOSA Canada Market Manager, at [email protected].

Thanks for reading and if you’ve not yet had a chance to slide over to my article on South Africa (publishing on Jan 17). Don’t forget to check out the critics’ Only One pick this week and the team will return over the next two weeks with previews for the VINTAGES February 2nd release.

Good to go!


Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

Szabo’s Smart Buys
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix

New Release and VINTAGES Preview